Prof. Dr. Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld’s second volume of adventures is bookended by a pair of memorable lectures and a pair of his own obituaries.
“I am always interested in everything,” the mainstay of the Institute for Romance Philology tells his host at the University of Arkansas. All five of these interlinked episodes explore the folly of this singularly imperceptive remark. In the title story, von Igelfeld, prodded by jealousy of his colleagues, seeks an invitation to America only to discover that his host, Prof. R.B. Leflar, thinks he’s a professor of veterinary medicine—a professor, in fact, quite recently deceased—and expects him to give a paper on dachshunds. In “A Leg to Stand On,” Prof. Leflar returns the visit to von Igelfeld in Regensburg, where a sausage dog again plays an unexpectedly prominent role. “On the Couch” sends von Igelfeld first to the same psychiatrist his vengeful colleague Prof. Dr. Detlev Amadeus Unterholzer is consulting, and then, when von Igelfeld outdoes Unterholzer in vindictiveness, to a priestly confessional that’s the comic high point of the volume. “The Bones of Father Christmas,” by far the longest of these stories, unleashes Smith’s wildest inventions, as von Igelfeld is inveigled into taking charge of the sacred relics of St. Nicholas and gets a private audience with the Pope, who otherwise passes his time playing solitaire. Finally, “The Perfect Imperfect” packs him aboard a cruise ship as the only unmarried man bobbing in a sea of hundreds of rapacious widows before he takes matters into his own hands.
Only two flaws mar Smith’s delicate comedy: The 50-page “Father Christmas” lacks the shorter adventures’ light touch, and we never do get to hear the complete text of either of von Igelfeld’s crucial lectures. (Illus. throughout with b&w block prints)